The Washington Post

Gaddafi, the author


Gaddafi with his favorite book. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters)

To try to understand the man and his current ravings, it is useful to look back at the three slim volumes that make up “The Green Book.”

But as Prof. Dirk Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya,” told NPR, the work is “very difficult to understand in part because it really is not a coherent thought if you compare it, for example, to ‘The Little Red Book’ of Mao and so on where you get at least a consistent argument. ‘The Green Book’ contains really a set of aphorisms more than a completely hought-out integrated philosophical statement.”

And those aphorisms can be of the nuttiest sort, as historian Andrew Roberts outlines for The Daily Beast. A few examples:

“Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom.”

“Placing a child in a day nursery is coercive and tyrannical and a violation of the child’s free and natural disposition.”

“If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body.”

For the average Libyan, “The Green Book” was ubiquitous. It wasn’t enough that the book existed. Gaddafi has attempted to inculcate his country in his bizarre thinking. As Prof. Vandewalle says, “Well, to just give you one example, usually, when television came on in the afternoon in Libya, it would open up with a citation from "The Green Book." So in a sense, it was everywhere. It was on public television. It was on the radio. It was in the schools. Children had to read it. You simply could not avoid it.”

Steven Levingston is the nonfiction editor of The Washington Post. He is author of “Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Époque Paris” (Doubleday, 2014) and “The Kennedy Baby: The Loss that Transformed JFK” (Washington Post eBook, 2013).

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